Creating defensible space around your home with vegetation management

Aug 23, 2019, 11:07 AM by Fred Speer

A California summer includes long, sun-filled days as well as high temperatures and dry weather. It also includes an increased threat of destructive wildfires, something California residents are all too familiar with.

Clark, your neighborly pest control, termite, and lawn care expert, is your partner in protecting your home from potentially destructive pests, like termites and rodents. Clark also can help you create a defensible space around your home.

What is defensible space? It’s the buffer between your home and the grass, trees, shrubs, or any wildland area that surround it. This space is needed to slow or stop the spread of wildfire, and it can protect your home from catching fire – either from direct flame contact or radiant heat.

According to Mike Andrew, manager, corporate agriculture quality assurance, for Clark Pest Control, creating defensible space is essential to improving your home’s chance of surviving a wildfire.

“Proper management of the landscape and vegetation around your home through removal of dead plants, shrubs, and trees,” says Andrew, “as well as the application of preemergent herbicides in the fall to curb weed growth the following spring, will help establish a defensible space.”

How valuable is creating a defensible space? Andrew says that during last year’s deadly and destructive Camp Fire in Paradise, CA, Clark was able to help save a pair of homes by creating one-acre defensible spaces below the ridgeline where the homes were located. When the fire came up the hill, it went around the homes, and they were not damaged.

It’s important to know that a fire-resistant landscape isn’t necessarily the same thing as a well-maintained yard. This type of landscape uses fire-resistant plants that are strategically planted to resist the spread of fire to your home. Fire-resistant plants are great in California, because they are often drought tolerant, too.

Defensible space zones

There are two zones that make up the required 100 feet of defensible space around a home. According to the Cal Fire website, here is the explanation of the two zones, along with suggested steps you can take to prepare your property and reduce your wildfire risk:

Zone 1 extends 30 feet* out from buildings, structures, decks, etc.


  • Remove all dead plants, grass and weeds (vegetation).
  • Remove dead or dry leaves and pine needles from your yard, roof, and rain gutters.
  • Trim trees regularly to keep branches a minimum of 10 feet from other trees.
  • Remove branches that hang over your roof and keep dead branches 10 feet away from your chimney.
  • Relocate wood piles into Zone 2.
  • Remove or prune flammable plants and shrubs near windows.
  • Remove vegetation and items that could catch fire from around and under decks.
  • Create a separation between trees, shrubs, and items that could catch fire, such as patio furniture, wood piles, swing sets, etc.


Zone 2 extends 100 feet out from buildings, structures, decks, etc.


  • Cut or mow annual grass down to a maximum height of 4 inches.
  • Create horizontal spacing between shrubs and trees.
  • Create vertical spacing between grass, shrubs, and trees.
  • Remove fallen leaves, needles, twigs, bark, cones, and small branches. However, they may be permitted to a depth of 3 inches.


* San Diego County requires 50 feet of clearance in Zone 1. Check with your local fire department for any additional defensible space or weed abatement ordinances.

Plant and tree spacing

The spacing between grass, shrubs, and trees is crucial to reduce the spread of wildfires. The spacing needed is determined by the type and size of brush and trees as well as the slope of the land. For example, a property on a steep slope with larger vegetation requires greater spacing between trees and shrubs than a level property that has small, sparse vegetation.

Vertical spacing

Remove all tree branches at least 6 feet from the ground. Allow extra vertical space between shrubs and trees. Lack of vertical space can allow a fire to move from the ground to the brush to the treetops like a ladder.

Choose fire-resistant plants and materials

The good news is that you don’t need a lot of money to make your landscape fire resistant. Also, you will find that a fire-resistant landscape can increase your property value and conserve water while beautifying your home.

  • Create fire-resistant zones with stone walls, patios, decks, and roadways.
  • Use rock, mulch, flower beds, and gardens as ground cover for bare spaces and as effective firebreaks.
  • There are no “fire-proof” plants. Select high-moisture plants that grow close to the ground and have a low sap or resin content.
  • Choose fire-retardant plant species that resist ignition, such as rockrose, ice plant, and aloe.
  • Select fire-resistant shrubs such as hedging roses, bush honeysuckles, currant, cotoneaster, sumac, and shrub apples.
  • Plant hardwood, maple, poplar, and cherry trees that are less flammable than pine, fir, and other conifers.


Clark encourages you to check your local nursery, landscape contractor, or county’s UC Cooperative Extension service for advice on fire-resistant plants that are best suited for your area.

Call or text Clark at (800) WE-NEED-YOU (936-3339) if you need help preparing defensible space around your home or business. You can also email us at for more information.


Until next time, the pest management professionals at Clark Pest Control thank you for helping to keep unwanted pests out of your home and yard.


Note: Information for this blog was adapted from the Cal Fire website